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Your Healthy Heart: Herbal and Nutritional Approaches

by Jill Rosemary Davies(more info)

listed in heart, originally published in issue 105 - November 2004

At present, cardiac failure is ten times more common in people over seventy-five than among forty-five to fifty-five-year-olds. Within these figures, women are four times as likely to succumb to general circulatory disorders as men (in Britain at any rate), though actual heart attacks are higher in men. However, according to NHS surgeons and consultants, burdened circulatory systems are giving rise to heart problems in younger and younger people. The resultant cost to the NHS (National Health Service) in terms of nursing and hospital care together with the many drugs used for the many heart and circulatory conditions, is becoming legion.

The heart is an incredible organ and as our life pump it has the job of moving 36,000 litres of blood around the blood vessels in a 24 hour period. The heart controls two circulatory systems: the pulmonary circulation and the general circulation. The pulmonary circulation carries blood from the heart to the lungs for oxygenation, whilst the general circulation transports blood from the heart all around the body.

Symptoms of Heart Disease

An imbalanced heart or circulatory system can be due to poor circulation, low or high blood pressure, angina and heart attacks and hardened arteries.

It's difficult to describe in a nutshell all the many feelings and symptoms which are attendant to the many diseases and disorders of the heart and circulation. Here are a few examples however; you may feel agitated, irritated, over excitable, restless; a general lack of peace of mind. You may have a reddened complexion, especially the nose or tip of the nose; conversely you may be pasty white. You may feel very hot and have painful inflamed joints. There may be excessive thirst and fevers. You must consult qualified medical practitioners (acupuncturist, doctor, qualified herbalist or all three) who are vital for diagnosis and a clearer understanding of what exactly is happening to your body. But a quick support, whatever the outcome, would be to stop drinking coffee and alcohol and drink more water.

What Integrated Medicine Can Offer

Nutrition

The Chinese teach us that bitter foods are very supportive and strengthening to both the small intestine and heart and, in our present sugar-oriented society, I think this is an ever more important point to remember. The partner organ to the heart is the small intestine and this sister organ has a vital role in digestion. It sorts and directs the body's needs, breaking down proteins; filtering out waste products which are then sent to the liver, kidneys etc., and finally absorbing vital nutrients. Keep a happy digestive system and by and large you will have a more supported heart.

Some Main Tips

  • Avoid eating excessive amounts of meat in order to lower cholesterol levels and homocysteine levels. High homocysteine levels cause plaque to build up in the arteries. Folic acid and other B vitamins will greatly help lower cholesterol and homocysteine levels. Oat bran can further help lower cholesterol as do beans, peas and lentils. Have a bowl daily as they do all over India.
  • Fats should be reduced in general, particularly saturated fats. Olive oil, low heated (not above 90ºF) or used raw, is the safest oil to use;
  • Avoid caffeine which, like salt and alcohol, over stimulates the heart. Also avoid carbonated drinks which are laden with phosphorus which upsets the vital needed calcium in the body;
  • Salt is acceptable as long as you use the good-quality, hand-harvested, sun and wind-dried variety. These salts have the correct balance of minerals and naturally tend to be lower in sodium; even so still use sparingly. Consider using coriander leaves, bay leaves, thyme and fennel for alternative flavouring;
  • Wholegrains are vital, especially rice and oats which raise the mood levels by providing the brain with serotonin. The mood can dip with heart problems so keeping up-beat is important. By avoiding wheat the villi in the gut will not be damaged or gummed up and absorption of nutrients and general digestion will be enhanced;
  • Avoid alcohol as it increases the strain on the circulatory system and heart, breaking open veins and expanding the arteries. It also increases free radical damage and oxidation. Oxidation is what happens when something is over-exposed to oxygen. Like a piece of rubber when it gets older, it goes hard, loses its elasticity and will finally crack or sag;
  • Cold pressed oils like flaxseed (linseed) and hemp are particularly good sources of essential fatty acids (EFAS). EFAS help body fats remain 'fluid' thus preventing fatty deposits from obstructing the arteries and they generate electrical currents that keep the heart beat regular. Lecithin granules from soya also help prevent fatty deposits accumulating in the blood;
  • Drink plenty of water so that our bodies are in a less congested state and are regularly 'flushed' out;
  • Avoid all sugar, use cold pressed honey, rice or oat syrups instead, or a little raw cane sugar if you must!
  • Search out bitter foods because they are cleansing and generally supportive as they trigger a better working of the small intestine, the heart itself and the circulatory system. These include chicory, endive, artichoke, sorrel, dandelion leaves, green tea, dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids and no sugar);
  • Search out calcium and magnesium rich foods as they calm the nervous system and help reduce high blood pressure etc. Magnesium feeds the heart muscle itself and calcium regulates the actual heart beat; e.g. go for green leafy vegetables, but also almonds, tinned fish, cashew nuts, dried fruit, seeds, lentils, peas, beans and olives.

Herbal Medicine

Herbs are an invaluable adjunct to good nutrition and their medicinal strength will lend weight and support to the healing process. Never mix self-prescribed over-the-counter remedies with heart medication, however. A qualified herbal practitioner would need to make such judgements based on a proper diagnosis and consultation. For help finding a qualified herbal practitioner please visit the European Herbal Practitioners Association (EHPA) website at: www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~ehpa/

Herbs

Garlic bulb has nearly 20 major chemical actions in the body, all with profound effects. To date, 33 sulphur compounds have been found in Garlic, the largest quantity so far discovered in a plant. Each of these has a different role. Among sulphur's many attributes is its ability to break down cholesterol, thinning the blood, acting as an anticoagulant. Garlic is also able to improve the quality of the blood by raising the level of haemoglobin and the red blood cell count – this is very helpful for people with anaemia. Additionally, the ajoene in garlic can increase the speed at which blood flows around the body, making it less likely to clog and result in faster circulation and the positive effects thereof. The wild garlic called Ramsons, found in damp woodlands all over the UK will also be of benefit; mix the fresh leaves into salads during spring and early summer.

Garlic bulb has nearly 20 major chemical actions in the body…
Garlic bulb has nearly 20 major chemical actions in the body…

Ginkgo tincture contains Ginkgolide – a flavonoid shown to counteract and inhibit the platelet activitating factor (PAF), a substance released by a range of blood cells when the liver and other areas are sick. These blood cell problems are due to an imbalance in the body. They cause the blood to become stickier and have other side-effects including a range of allergic reactions such as excessive inflammation. Ginkgo also contains flavonoids (proathocyanidins, catechins and condensed tannins) that are noted for their cardiovascular protection. Its coumarin content accounts for Ginkgo's blood-thinning qualities.

Ginkgo Research

An article in the Lancet, Vol. 340 examined numerous studies on intermittent claudication (pain while walking), cerebral insufficiency and a wide collection of vascular impairment symptoms including tinnitus. Dosages ranged between 120 and 160mg of ginkgo per day divided into equal doses and taken at mealtimes. Most studies showed that between 30 and 70 per cent of subjects experienced reduced symptoms over a 6-12 week period. No serious side-effects were observed and many minor side-effects were not statistically significant compared to subjects treated only with a placebo.

Modern research on Ginkgo dates back to the late 1950s when Dr William Schwabe of the Schwabe Company in West Germany created an extract from the leaf.

Other Herbs

Hawthorn, as leaf, flower and berry, has a wide-ranging chemistry that affects the body in many ways. Research scientists have found that it is able to inhibit natural enzyme responses in the blood vessels, partly due to it's 'angiotensin converting enzymes' (ACE) which are responsible for constricting blood vessels. This helps to move the blood along efficiently by overriding these enzymes and keeping the blood vessels open, thus improving circulation. This is vital in a situation where blood vessels lack tone and have become inert because they are clogged up with fat and calcium deposits. In this situation, an enzyme that 'shuts down' the blood vessels further and restricts what little available space there is will contribute to a dangerous situation. Hawthorn helps to lessen pain in the heart and adjacent areas and increases warmth in cold hands and feet where the drop in temperature is due to poor circulation.

Other chemical components help to re-elasticate the blood vessel walls and in-turn assist their peristaltic and flexing action, thus promoting good blood flow and circulation throughout the entire body. The plant chemical rutin, which is a flavonoid, is partly responsible for this and also helps to re-build the collagen fibres that maintain the outer layers of the vessels.

Hawthorn's antioxidant and vitamin-C rich chemistry assists in keeping all the circulatory components (the veins, vessels and capillaries) young, active and functioning properly, revitalizing, rebuilding and helping to prevent further deterioration.

Dandelion root, made as coffee or tincture or its leaves made as a tea or tincture, aids the dispersal of water retention, which can be a problem with heart and vascular blockages – swollen ankles are often a sign of water retention. Repairing and cleansing the vascular system via diet and herbs will drastically alter this waterlogged situation as the blood slowly begins to move more and more freely around the body.

Passion Flower, a soothing, gentle and calming herb, is used mainly for sleep difficulties, but it also lowers blood pressure, helping to prevent tachycardia (irregular heart beat).

Passion Flower, a soothing, gentle and calming herb, is used mainly for sleep difficulties
Passion Flower, a soothing, gentle and calming herb,
is used mainly for sleep difficulties

All bitter herbs will support the nutritional directives on this subject. The usefulness of herbs is that a small amount can be taken orally in liquid form which would amount to huge levels of food! Bitter herbs that would help would be gentian, artichoke, bitter orange, turmeric, wormwood and chamomile.

Other general herbs to help support digestion and circulation are prickly ash which supports peripheral circulation, particularly a foggy brain, and rosemary similarly. Ginger stimulates digestion and improves peripheral circulation. Gotu kola is calming to the nervous system and supportive to the heart and circulation.

Natural Healing – Self Help

DO NOT SMOKE. Smoking accounts for a large proportion of cases of heart failure and circulation diseases.

Exercise is vital, particularly with reference to the heart. It should be taken daily and carefully paced. At some point during the day, ideally after a period of gentle exercise, push the heart to rapid beat for five minutes; this will really make it pump and flex. If you experience heart pains, stop immediately.

Hydrotherapy will greatly help the heart and circulatory system, adjusting the temperature of the water according to your individual strength and tolerance. Training your body gradually over a period of time to tolerate the extremes of hot and cold will be extremely beneficial. For some, hot water would not be ideal, e.g. in hot body conditions, rather cold water with warm.

Massage and meditation will all enhance the circulatory process. Home-made hyssop or ylang ylang grade 1 or 2 are particularly good oils to be either massaged in or added to the bath.

Suggested Herbal Formulas

Herbal Formulas (a formula is two or more herbs mixed together to work synergistically to achieve the desirable result; this is called polypharmacy) are suggested to support the circulatory system, heart and digestion.

Heart and Circulation

Hawthorn tincture provides more oxygen to the heart and generally supports and tones the heart muscle. It also helps to thin 'sticky' and 'clumping' blood and assist in clearing 'deposits' in the veins and arteries.

Herbal Combinations for Heart and Circulation

Hawthorn berry, barberry root bark, cinnamon quills, eucalyptus leaf, gingko leaf, parsley leaf, prickly ash bark, motherwort herb, liquorice root, ginger root and cayenne pod. Warming and energizing, this formula is an all-round heart and vein formula used by many to great effect. These herbs help maintain the structure and elasticity of the veins, arteries and heart. They also assist peripheral and central blood flow.

Ginkgo leaf, gotu kola nut, prickly ash bark, rosemary leaf and cayenne pod. This formula helps maintain peripheral circulation, particularly to the brain. It generally warms and helps cold hands and feet

Prickly ash bark, rosemary leaf, liquorice root and cayenne pod. This formula that is useful when there are dips in concentration and energy levels. It is best used little and often. Carry it with you and a few drops at a time can provide useful brain clarity.

Digestion

Good digestion and heart support have always been part of a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes just by invigorating digestion the heart can be less provoked and remain more stable. A formula that does this is: cramp bark, milk thistle seed, marigold flower, fennel seed, meadowsweet herb, Siberian ginseng root, tumeric root, wild yam root, astragalus root, bitter orange peel, olive leaf, black cohosh root, artichoke herb, gentian root, chamomile flower, wormwood herb, liquorice root and ginger root.

Nettle Tea is rich in iron which supports the heart and oxygen levels.

Calming Nerves

A formula that serves as a daytime nerve builder, and is ideal for calming, strengthening, nurturing and relaxing the equilibrium of the nervous system, keeping the mind comfortably agile while easing anxieties and replenishing nerve repair stores, while being helpful to anxiety driven high blood pressure is: skullcap herb, gotu kola herb, chamomile herb, vervain herb, wood betony herb, wild lettuce herb, black cohosh root, astragalus root, Siberian ginseng root, Californian poppy herb, cramp bark, lime flower, passion flower, valerian root and cayenne pod.

Haemorrhoids Etc.

Olive oil, beeswax and powders of oak bark, chestnut fruit, pilewort leaf, selfheal
herb, comfrey root and oak bark. This is a a soothing and healing ointment helpful for circulatory sores and piles.

General Digestive and Circulatory Support

Green Tea, rich in flavonoids, acts as a general digestive and circulatory support.

Case Study

John often felt foggy brained and low in energy which made working very difficult. He knew his blood pressure was high but not so bad that the GP wanted to put him on medication just yet. He decided to work on his own health by doing more exercise and drinking more water but he felt herbs could also help. He bought some Hawthorn tincture and started taking this each day and also monitored his blood pressure once a week, after buying a blood pressure monitor machine.

All went well and after a month he saw some small and pleasant improvements and noticed he was feeling more energized. He still felt a bit brain foggy and after consulting a qualified herbalist decided to try some Prickly Ash and Rosemary which he was told would specifically target his brain and give him an 'awake' feeling almost instantly. After just a few days of taking it he felt radically different, but he was surprised how instantly it changed his mood and brain clarity – it took just minutes to lift the feeling.

Further Information

European Herbal Practitioners Association (EHPA)
www.usen.globalnet.co.uk/~ehpa/

Comments:

  1. Frances Klamath said..

    I am happy to have come across your web-site and suggestions on health remedies.
    I sure would like the Hemrhoid saave and also some herbal- helps to take internally when I have a flare-up.
    Thank you in advance.
    Frances


  2. Frances Klamath said..

    where can I purchase quality herbal tinctures?


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About Jill Rosemary Davies

Jill Rosemary Davies HNHIr PhD is Senior Herbal Practitioner and co-director of Herbs Hands Healing Ltd. She has designed all of the company's herbal formulae, which she has been using in her own clinic for over 20 years. She has practised Herbal Medicine since 1982 and has also written 15 books on the subject. Jill has worked on Herbal Medicine Associations and Regulatory Groups for over a decade. She is the vice-chair of the Association of Master Herbalists (AMH), a member of the British Herbal Medicine Association (BHMA) and a member of the European Herbal Practitioners Association (EHPA). One of her books has just been republished by Ten Speed Press CA in January 2004 and is entitled The Complete Home Guide to Herbs, Natural Healing and Nutrition. She can be contacted on: Tel: 0845 345 3727; info@herbshandshealing.co.uk; www.herbshandshealing.co.uk

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